The drizzle let up after we left the Meiji Jingu Shrine, and during our short walk through the Imperial Palace Garden, umbrellas were pretty much “optional.” Those of us raised in the Pacific Northwest are drip-dry, and sprinkles, especially when it’s 80 degrees out, don’t faze us at all.
Thousands of blooming irises are the focal point of the garden. Rumor has it there are people hired to count the blossoms every day! That sounds like my kind of job!
As at the Meiji Shrine, our group was quietly reflective. And with that in mind, I’m going to let these photos speak for themselves. “They say” a picture is worth a thousand words, and I’m sure I wrote enough yesterday to more than cover me today.
You’re right! Meiji Jingu Shrine isn’t in Korea! After a week with Don and Chris in Seoul, Miriam and I set off “alone” to spend a week in Japan! Don set it all up months ago, so it’s not like it wasn’t all planned out, but actually, it WASN’T all planned out!
Although our flights into Tokyo and back from Osaka were booked, as well as our hotels in Tokyo, Hakone, and Kyoto, and we already had our “bullet train” seats reserved, we also had much time “on our own” to go exploring things we’d read about in various tourist guides.
Our first morning in Tokyo, however, we had a “half day” Grayline Tour, with an English-speaking guide, which took us to several not-to-miss venues as well as giving us the general lay of the land. It rained this day, so the view from the SkyTree wasn’t great, and I didn’t care a whit about driving by the Akasaka Guest House or the National Diet Building (seat of parliament).
The Meiji Shrine, however, captured my imagination and rekindled the fire at my spiritual center. There was something about the light, drizzling rain at the Shrine which gave it an additional air of solemnity. Passing under the arch to be “purified” felt somehow more holy in the mist.
There was a water-pouring over hands demonstration, which I equated to being blessed with holy water. Dippers of liquid from the trough, the process following a specific, century’s old ritual, felt very appropriate and natural and reverent.
As I understand it, the “Shintos” have no specific iconic deity, such as an image of Buddha, or Jesus, or Allah, on which to focus their prayers and requests.
Here, when they climb the steps to approach their place to submit prayers, they first throw money into the “offering box.” There are several of them, end to end between the pillars, where you stand to face the inner courtyard. The boxes are wooden, maybe two feet wide and six feet long, and of a dark wood, maybe mahogany, and yes, the size and shape reminded me of a coffin.
Narrow slats, perhaps an inch wide and half an inch apart, run the length of each of them. Coins (and paper money) may fall in, but hands cannot reach in to pull the money back out. It matters not how much is offered, you are not buying more attention from the spirits by throwing more in. Our guide told us the coin with the hole in it is a very popular offering, which I think is only about fifty cents.
After throwing money into the box, they bow twice, and loudly clap their hands twice to call forth the spirits. They silently pray a short specific request, for maybe a safe journey, or easy childbirth, or to find happiness in a relationship, or to heal someone who is sick, then bow once more, and depart. Short, sweet, and to the point.
No photos are allowed at the top of these steps of the offering boxes or the interior of the shrine itself, which looked to be a rather plain area and not too elaborate or eye-catching. At the bottom of the steps are the ema, the prayer request boards (for which there is an approximate $5 cost to add yours to the thousands there).
When President Obama visited the shrine, he wrote a “prayer or wish request” on the small wooden tablets (ema) for the prayer board. Naturally, he asked for world-wide peace and global prosperity. He hung his ema with hundreds of others, but a priest removed it, afraid someone would take it. Obama asked him if his wish would still come true…
There is also an austere booth where you can buy blessed charms. I got one for “good fortune” and one for “soundness of mind and body.” No photos were allowed at the charm booth either, and no English explanation came with them, so I quickly jotted down which was which on the back of the envelope!
Our guide told us that Shinto Shrines are for happy times, while Buddhist Temples are for sadness and death. Most Japanese attend both, depending on the occasion.
My (now deceased) friend Alex would laugh his butt off over this, since he could never, ever, get me to try sushi during his lifetime. But maybe a little in his honor, I braved the wild seaweed and rice rolls and… and… and found I actually ENJOYED them!
In fact, I enjoyed sushi (and sashimi) so much that “Sushi’o” became my favorite restaurant in Korea. How’s THAT for having a mind-blowing psychic change?
Before I left home, I had put “try sushi” on the list of things I wanted to be sure to do while visiting Asia. I figured the sushi would be as good as anywhere in the world, and I might as well taste it here, if ever!
So the four of us (Don, Chris, Miriam and me) trotted off to a fourth-floor restaurant in Nowon-gu. The first thing I noticed was the conveyor belt, moving little clear-covered saucers all around the room with one or two pieces of sushi on each one.
The second thing was that in addition to the moving sushi, there was an entire salad bar, soup bar, noodle bar, deep fried appetizer bar, and a place to make a DIY ice cream sundae. So even if I didn’t like sushi, I certainly wouldn’t starve!
In case you are as in the dark as I was, sashimi is the thinly-sliced raw fish (salmon, tuna, and so much more), and sushi is really a rice-roll, sometimes wrapped with seaweed (which I also love now), and has a little fish, or vegetables like carrots or green onion or bok choy, or another type of meat (like duck or pork) tucked inside.
My very favorite item from the conveyor belt had a thin slice of melt-in-your mouth salmon draped over a seaweed-wrapped sushi roll containing a small amount of several kinds of vegetables, topped with, of all things, a slice of Velveeta cheese and drizzled with blueberry syrup! No kidding!!
Of course, I ate like it was Thanksgiving, and totally stuffed myself. So to work it part of it off, we walked home from the restaurant along the canal as night fell on the city. Great ending to a great meal!
After non-denominational church at the school on Sunday, we took the subway out five stops in a new direction toward Dobongsan. We crossed the busy street and headed “up” and into Bukhansan National Park, which offers a myriad of well-maintained hiking trails.
But first—when you exit the subway, there’s about half a mile of paved street, leading up and up the hill, which is inundated with sporting goods of every type piled high on tables in small market booth tents and/or stalls crammed on both sides of the street.
For all the world, it looks like you’ve stumbled into the middle one continuous outdoor REI Sporting Goods Store! There are neon colored jackets, pants, gloves, hats, walking sticks, backpacks, fanny packs, socks and tennis shoes! And all this is intermittently interjected with food stalls, primarily selling gross-me-out-seafood like eel, anemone, sea slug, smoked and reconstituted hake, octopus, squid and lots more, including what might have been overdone pigeon.
Again, my visual sensors were on overdrive. Masses of Koreans wore hot fluorescent conflicting colors my mother would NEVER have let me out of the house wearing! Wild geometric designs—and nothing matched! And there were literally THOUSANDS of these walking stick-wielding fashionistas! Oh my!!
We headed off into “the mountains” and there were some rather severe inclines and declines, my knee was giving me fits, but I was determined to keep going. It was 86 degrees, but a soft breeze and shade trees kept us from feeling the heat.
For a quarter mile or we climbed in relative silence beneath a canopy of beautiful deciduous leaves arching above us. Then surprise! the trail widened slightly and there, tucked into a small picturesque valley/meadow was a gorgeous Shinto Shrine—definitely a photo op!
Before we finished the loop back around to our starting point, we encountered two more temple/shrines, smaller than the first, and not as ornate, but definitely a delight to see.
Our first Saturday, both Don and Chris took us on another “tour” lasting nine hours! It was one jam-packed day, brimming with visual and culinary delights, deeply affecting (in a positive way) both my emotional and physical well-being.
We began at the Jungmyo Confucian Shrine. Here we embraced a shoeless, floor-sitting experience, learning about the burial rites for royalty dating back several centuries. I was struck by the similarities in their time-honored traditions, and my own “rituals” after someone close to me passes. I was much weepy, yet cleansed, and completely centered in gratitude.
After such a spiritual experience, we all went for dark, 74% sweet/bitter hot chocolate and an equally decadent truffle. Then, revitalized, we sat in quiet meditation at a nearby Buddhist Temple. It was filled with candles illuminating the giant golden statue of Buddha, flanked by an only slightly smaller golden king and queen.
The yin and the yang of the day was only just beginning, and yet I was already conscious of the extreme juxtaposition of nearly opposite emotions.
We ate a lunch of Cornish game hen and rice, and pickled this and that. Not one of us liked the kimchee (present at every meal), or the tiny dried fish, and the strips of eggplant got only one taker, who discretely spit it out. Nevertheless, the meal was good, and filling, and we headed off for the afternoon well-satisfied.
After a short subway journey, we walked through a traditional “hanok” neighborhood, where the small homes are uncomfortably close together, but often contain beautiful courtyards and doorways that are intricately carved.
When we passed a Presbyterian Church, I said aloud that I was a card-carrying member, and the young woman in the archway of the adjoining hanok echoed “Presbyterian.” I nodded and she motioned us to come inside. It was actually an annex to the church, and we took off our shoes and sat on mats, and were treated to a traditional tea service at a table no more than 6” above the floor.
Refreshed, we wandered the area, up one street and down the next, checking out crafts made mostly by local university students. Chris bought an enamel/cloisonné necklace, a steam punk watch, and a drawstring purse. I was looking for an earring/necklace set, but didn’t find exactly what I had in mind, so didn’t buy anything.
We took the subway back to a main downtown canal area and walked some distance (as if we hadn’t walked enough already today!) along the water, down on one side and back the other enjoying from every perspective the amazing three-dimensional art set out on stone blocks among the ripples.
I was really glad to get back to the apartment, and for the quick and easy dinner of bongousse (like mongoose with a B), which is like a burger, only the “bun” is pressed rice, and the filling of chopped meat (mine was duck), lettuce and assorted veggies are pressed into the middle.
After a day like this one, I was totally ready to put my feet up!